It is estimated that 15-20% of gay men in America marry heterosexual women. But Liu Dalin, a pioneering sexologist now retired from the University of Shanghai, has put the share in China at 90%. If so, the number of tongqi in China may be as high as 25m. Li Yinhe, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, explains this in almost the same terms as Mencius: “The name for a family without descendants is juehu, which means ‘a house that is severed’. That is considered the biggest tragedy and causes huge pain.”
But so do many tongqi unions. Mrs Li explains why she thinks a woman should never marry a gay man: “Their husbands don’t want to look them in the eyes. They’re not willing to get close to them or touch their bodies. This is a huge blow to a woman’s sense of self-worth.”
He Xiaopei runs a Beijing-based tongqi support group, called Pink Space. She says some tongqi have sunk into severe depression because of their husbands’ refusal or inability to have sex with them. Tongqi brides typically have little sexual experience before marriage, and little knowledge of homosexuality. Once they have discovered their husband’s sexuality and accepted that he cannot change, they often feel angry and betrayed.
Pink Space offers no advice to those who contact it, just moral support. Mrs He says that many women who join her group feel immense relief after they have unburdened themselves. A small fraction eventually opt for divorce. But most choose to slog unhappily on with their sham and desolate unions.